- - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Donald Trump’s narrow presidential win actually masks Republicans’ growing national dominance. By focusing on the unconventional “who” and “how” of November’s presidential race, we overlook the “what” and “why” lying beneath it. Below the presidential results rests progressively stronger Republican bases at the state and congressional levels.

All are familiar with the contradictory presidential election story of 2016. Mr. Trump lost the popular vote handily by almost 3 million votes, yet won the electoral vote decisively 306-232.

These divergent results give the impression that Mr. Trump’s victory was a fluke — an outcome thrust upon Republicans that will not be repeated. Instead while Mr. Trump’s victory did not conform to past presidential elections, it fits perfectly with state elections’ current patterns.

Mr. Trump won where Republicans are already dominant. Viewed in a state election context, the surprise is not that he won, but that the race was so close and that Republicans took so long to figure out how to win.

Mr. Trump won 306 electoral votes and carried 30 states. Twenty-four of those states have governments completely controlled by Republicans. Of the other six, five have state legislatures controlled by Republicans.



Overall, Republicans totally control 25 states, accounting for 255 electoral votes. Of these, Mr. Trump lost only New Hampshire and its four electoral votes. Republicans control both bodies in seven more. Of these seven, Mr. Trump won five and their 51 electoral votes. Outside this Republican state stronghold, he won only four more electoral votes (Alaska’s three and one in Maine).

What the Republican state stronghold means is that Mr. Trump did not need to win anywhere else in order to capture the White House.

Mr. Trump tapped into the gold mine Republicans have in state governments. Of America’s total of 1,972 state senate seats, Republicans hold 1,124 (57 percent). Of the 5,411 state house seats, Republicans hold 3,053 (56 percent).

In the 25 states where Republicans have total control, the Republican state legislator advantage is better than 2-1: 667 Republican state senate seats to Democrats’ 252, and 1,901 Republican state house seats to Democrats’ 922. Even outside these 25 states, Republicans hold their own in the other half — Democrats have 543-457 advantage in state senate seats and a 1,418-1,152 advantage in state house seats.

Republicans’ dominance in governorships is similar: They hold 33 governorships to Democrats’ 16.

Together, this creates an incredible Republican advantage of totally controlling half the nation’s state governments. In contrast, Democrats totally control just five state governments (California, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon and Rhode Island). Those five states account for only 73 electoral votes. Even when the seven states where Democrats control both bodies of the states’ legislatures (Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Vermont) are added, they only gain another 69 electoral votes.

Looking from state government totals to Congress, Republicans’ majorities are not surprising. If anything, they have room to grow.

Republicans’ congressional fortunes continue their remarkable shift over the last quarter-century. In the 12 elections from 1994 to 2016, Republicans have won control of the House 10 times and the Senate eight. In the 31 elections from 1932 to 1992, Republicans won control of the Senate just five times and the House only twice.

These state and congressional figures represent more than an overlooked reversal of the view that Republicans are struggling politically. These figures also could presage the future.

State legislatures serve as a political farm system for governors and members of Congress. State governments also determine the new congressional districts to be drawn in just three years — and which could further strengthen Republicans’ congressional majorities.

There are non-electoral advantages, too. States are the incubators of policy. It is a big plus to have disproportionately more laboratories for designing policy than the opposition. Finally, there is the bonus of conditioning voters to vote Republican.

Republicans’ six decades of largely congressional failure from 1932 to 1992 show political inertia is real. It is hard to start a movement from a standstill and stop an opponent on a roll. However, beneath the surface, Republicans have done that and built a formidable political empire in the states.

Just how formidable is shown by Mr. Trump’s campaign succeeding precisely where Republicans dominated state governments — particularly the legislatures. This does not diminish Mr. Trump’s huge accomplishments in his own campaign. However, none may be bigger for Republicans than his bequeathing a presidential road map for their future presidential candidates.

It is a map Republicans very much needed. As their state dominance shows, recent Republican presidential candidates have underperformed — particularly establishment ones — their state and congressional candidates. Mr. Trump’s “November surprise” proves Republican presidential candidates can also win there — and it need not be a surprise when they do.

• J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department, the Office of Management and Budget and as a congressional staff member.

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